Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: Sacramento doctor battles his own blood

For Larry Saltzman, 2013 could be distilled down to one word: blood.

In the spring, the blood of victims blocked his path to the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The Sacramento doctor was running for charity on April 15 when a terrorist bomb ended his run a half-mile from the finish line – while killing and maiming those who had come to cheer for him and other competitors.

In the summer, Saltzman’s own blood count spiked to frightening levels as he battled against leukemia.

“My white blood cell count peaked at 115,000,” said the 60-year-old Saltzman. “Normal counts are 5,000, so 115,000 was scary to me. It was scarier because I knew what it meant. My white blood count was accelerating to a point where it was not sustainable.”

Six months of chemotherapy ensued. One goal remained: to keep training so that he could attempt the Boston Marathon again in April. He vowed to live so that he could return to where innocents had died. He wanted to participate in a glorious celebration of community that terrorists could not damage permanently. He’s focused now on completing the run this time with people cheering and smiling at the finish line.

As 2013 comes to a close, Saltzman is on track to make it happen. He’s still running.

“My leukemia/lymphoma has been beaten back, now with normal blood counts and no active disease in my lymph nodes” wrote Saltzman in words he also posted on his fundraising page. “A miracle you might say, but really just good science, medicine, prayers, and support from (friends) and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS).”

A family practice doctor, Saltzman has come to understand the breadth and depth of blood cancers in the United States.

“There are 1.2 million people living with blood cancers in the U.S. alone,” said Saltzman, quoting numbers from the Leukemia Lymphoma Society. “These blood cancers now account for the third highest number of cancer deaths behind lung and colon.”

Saltzman is running to assist the science by raising whatever money he can for cancer research.

“Being able to train for Boston so soon after chemo is truly a gift, one that I am not taking lightly,” he said.

“But this isn’t about me. … It’s about the 150,000 blood cancers that will be diagnosed in the next year. It’s about enhancing the $1 billion LLS has already poured into research, including a new $15 million investment to study gene therapy techniques transforming a patient’s blood cells into ‘soldiers’ seeking and destroying the cancer.”

This is not a pipe dream. The scientists are getting close: “This is about fast tracking through the FDA a new drug, Ibrutinib, that is turning certain forms of leukemia into a livable chronic condition, as with diabetes or hypertension. And it’s about the grants that LLS provides to patients and their families who need financial help in obtaining vital care.”

Saltzman aims to raise $1 for every white blood cell in his body when he began chemotherapy last summer – a fundraising goal of $115,000 for blood cancer research.

His presence at the Boston Marathon in April will be a personal triumph but also one for the larger causes of cancer research and community healing from an act of terrorism.

From so much blood and suffering in 2013 to the promise of joy at the finish line in four months’ time. It’s why Larry Saltzman is running – with grit and gratitude in his heart.

If you want to make a donation to Saltzman’s effort, you can do so here: